Project & Problem Based Learning

While Project-Based Learning and Problem-Based Learning share much in common, they are two distinct approaches to learning. In Project-Based Learning, students have a great deal of control of the project they will work on and what they will do in the project. The project may or may not address a specific problem. In Problem-Based Learning, a specific problem is specified by the course instructor. Students work individually or in teams over a period of time to develop solutions to this problem. This instructional approach is widely used in Architecture Education, Business Education, Medical Education, and in other situations where "case study" methods provide a useful focus in teaching/learning.

Students working collaboratively on a project.

Project-Based Learning

Definition: Project-Based Learning is an individual or group activity that goes on over a period of time, resulting in a product, presentation, or performance. It typically has a time line and milestones, and other aspects of formative evaluation as the project proceeds. 

Here are some general ideas about Project-Based Learning

  1. Project-based learning is learner centered. Students have a significant voice in selecting the content areas and nature of the projects that they do. There is considerable focus on students understanding what it is they are doing, why it is important, and how they will be assessed. Indeed, students may help to set some of the goals over which they will be assessed and how they will be assessed over these goals. All of these learner-centered characteristics of PBL contribute to learner motivation and active engagement. A high level of intrinsic motivation and active engagement are essential to the success of a PBL lesson.
  2. From student point of view, Project-Based Learning:
    1. Is learner centered and intrinsically motivating.
    2. Encourages collaboration and cooperative learning.
    3. Requires students to produce a product, presentation, or performance.
    4. Allows students to make incremental and continual improvement in their product, presentation, or performance.
    5. Is designed so that students are actively engaged in "doing" things rather then in "learning about" something.
    6. Is challenging; focusing on higher-order skills.
  3. From teacher point of view, Project-Based Learning:
    1. Has authentic content and purpose.
    2. Uses authentic assessment.
    3. Is teacher facilitated--but the teacher is much more a "guide on the side" rather than a "sage on the stage."
    4. Has explicit educational goals.
    5. Is rooted in constructivism (a social learning theory).
    6. Is designed so that the teacher will be a learner.
    7. Teacher plays a major role in setting the learning goals of the project.
    8. Teacher and students provide formative evaluation.
    9. Teacher, students, and others may help in the summative (final) evaluation.
    10. Rubrics created by a combination of teacher and students. These facilitate self-evaluation, peer evaluation, evaluation by the teacher, and evaluation by outside experts.
Taken from Description of Project Based Learning

What is problem-based learning?

Problem-based learning (PBL) is a student-centered approach in which students learn about a subject by working in groups to solve an open-ended problem.

  • The problem is what drives the motivation and the learning
    Rather than teaching relevant material and subsequently having students apply the knowledge to solve problems, the problem is presented first. Students generally must:
  • Examine and define the problem.
  • Explore what they already know about underlying issues related to it.
  • Determine what they need to learn and where they can acquire the information and tools necessary to solve the problem.
  • Evaluate possible ways to solve the problem.
  • Solve the problem.
  • Report on their findings.
  • PBL assignments can be short, or they can be more involved and take a whole semester.
  • PBL is often group oriented, so it is beneficial to set aside classroom time to prepare students to work in groups and to allow them to engage in their PBL project.

Why use problem-based learning?

A well-design PBL project provides students with the opportunity to develop skills related to:

  • Working in teams.
  • Managing projects and holding leadership roles.
  • Oral and written communication.
  • Self-awareness and evaluation of group processes.
  • Working independently.
  • Critical thinking and analysis.
  • Explaining concepts.
  • Self-directed learning.
  • Applying course content to real world examples.
  • Researching and information literacy.
  • Problem solving across disciplines.
Taken from Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence

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